Archive for January 16th, 2008

There’s an old maxim: If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it’s a duck. Unfortunately, this can be taken too far. Like if you hear one quack, and declare duck-dom.

The mid-80s (yes, I’m older than dirt) saw the first big wave of Christian bands that sought to “cross over”, i.e. take their music to the larger, secular market. Regardless of the actual motivation of each individual that did this, a blanket “discernment” was made by many that every last one of them had impure motives. And so they were regularly attacked for allegedly “selling out the Gospel”.

But apparently, there were not enough targets to be attacked, and even the ODMs of the 80s were getting tired of flagellating the expired equine. So new musicians were found and (mis)labeled as Christian cross-overs. What were the criteria for the “research” that went into finding these artists? One quack.

Mr. Mister was allegedly a Christian cross-over because of their song, “Kyrie Eleison”. And in what has to be the most stunningly laughable association of all time, George Michael was declared a Christian cross-over because of the title of one song, “Faith”. These associations also had the added benefit to the critics that they could then ascribe whatever unChrist-like actions (no matter how bizarre) that these artists did to actual Christian musicians. One would imagine that they viewed Bob Hartman as being 5 minutes away from being arrested for lewd acts in a park restroom.

Lest you think that such far-reaching associations were a thing of yesteryear, we have this post from C?N. Because a father-to-be out-of-wedlock uses a little spiritual terminology, the logical conclusion (apparently) is that he will be embraced by emergents. This illogic is then compounded by stating that McConaughey sounds “amazingly similar” to “some of these new breed emerging church pastors”. Never mind that no names or quotes are cited — we’ll take the Editor at his word. And, of course, never mind that — in many of his words — McConaughey also sounds “amazingly similar” to any and every super-conservative pastor out there.

The Stretch Armstrong of logic just snapped and that green ooze is going everywhere.

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I confess that I have a few American Idol alumni in my Itunes, but just like my voting policy, I’ll never tell you who they are. Last night, my wife reminded me as I was doing homework with one of my daughters that the season premier was on in a little bit. A couple of years ago watching what I like to call the American Idol pre-season became a tradition of sorts for my wife and I. Back then we could only watch one channel and we were in a little cabin waiting for something a little bigger to open up for us. Of course like a lot of Americans we laughed at some of the contestants, wondering what in the world they were thinking. So last night I stopped what I was doing and from the first commercial on we watched the carnage. I’d like to tell you that we had empathy for those people who tried and failed but the truth is we laugh at most of them. The truth is after the auditions I’ll hardly watch any of the episodes. About half way through, I said to my wife, “There’s something we can learn from this, I just don’t know what it is.” Believe it or not, I actually pondered this for the rest of the show. I pondered what can the church learn from American Idol? Not, how can the church emulate American Idol but what are the inherent truths here that I’m missing.

Then it happened. Near the end there was a series of failed contestants walking out the door, some sad, most angry, and all of them talking about how they were going to make it “without American Idol!!!” Now, let’s think about that for a moment, here is two of the best talent evaluators in the business (Randy and Simon–I’m not really sure why Paula is on the show) and they’ve just told you that you’re not good enough but you’re gonna go make it on your own. Sure, there probably will be somebody who will do that once, maybe. Realistically, though these people are not going to make it. They’re just not that good.

All of the Princess Leia like hair do’s and chest hair waxing isn’t going to make their voices any better. No amount of one finger salutes or complaining about the make up girls that all look alike is going to change that. It’s amazing really, these people just lie to themselves. The truth is too hard to face. It’s easier to blame the judges. It’s even easier to get angry instead of facing the truth that your hurting. I imagine for many if not all of these people this is a life long dream. Many have probably had the flames of this dream fanned by well intentioned friends and family members who have listened through ears that are well… friends and family ears. Rather than hurt the person they love they encourage them that they could make it, that they might have a chance and their voices might be good enough. The idea of being dishonest in an effort to be nice is a topic for a whole other day. So they rant, they rave and they blame everyone out there. Before we get too hard on these idol wannabes I want to ask, doesn’t the church do this?

Seriously, the conservatives blame the emergents, the emergents blame the conservatives. One denomination blames another, free-willers blame Calvinists, Calvinists blame free-willers, etc.

I know of a pastor who led a church to a third of the size it was when he took over. You know what he says the reason is? People just cannot handle good hard preaching anymore. Now, I wonder what that says about the guy before him, who hired him and groomed him to take his place. Is he saying that guy didn’t preach solid Biblical truths? That church has lost most of its influence in the community in which it has historic roots, mostly because it fought the wrong battles.

Read the gospels. It’s fascinating. Jesus was hated or loved depending on who was around him but he was never marginalized. He was never ignored. Everywhere he went people talked about Him, they knew about Him. Same thing with the Apostle Paul. It’s amazing, people tried to kill him in a variety of ways. The early church grew. Maybe it was because it didn’t have the time to blame outsiders because those outsiders were persecuting them.

I love when a church or some para-church ministry rants and shrieks about “the Culture Wars” and taking America back to the golden age when “it was a Christian nation.” When I was a kid we used to spread that kind of talk on our fields as fertilizer. I’m afraid the church has lost some of its effectiveness because we’ve failed to tell ourselves the truth. We’ve failed to look at the mirror and see where we are failing. We’ve been too busy blaming people who don’t believe like us for not acting like us. We’ve gone crazy trying to defend things are extra-biblical. It’s time we take a long deep look at us and ask if we are redeeming the time or punching a time clock. The problem is that this is hard. It’s hard to say that you were wrong, It’s even harder to ask for forgiveness. If you really want to do something extremely hard that Christ commands us to do, don’t worry about taking the gospel to some third world country–just try to forgive someone who has really hurt you. For many, going to that third world country will be far far easier.

There are people who actually fight over the terms we should call ourselves. Christ-follower or Christian? I sincerely doubt that the label we proudly slap on our chest has ever shown anyone what it means to be loved. I doubt that anyone has ever decided to follow Christ because of some label. Both terms drives at people looking like Jesus. One of the terms actually means “little Christ.” I wonder if Christ would have thumped his chest over a label?

When the disciples were exercised over someone doing Kingdom things they told him to stop because he wasn’t one of them. How did Jesus respond? He told them to let the guy alone. The time has come for the church to stop blaming “those people” whoever those people are take a long hard look at the church. What if every church, every Christian/Christ-follower were to just ask one simple question this year? What if we asked how much we looked like Jesus? The Bible is full of great ways that we can demonstrate that we are like Christ. They all involve actions.

If you really want to be relevant to your community, go love somebody this week. Let the person behind you jump ahead at the checkout next time. Write a thank you note to the person who’s opening the envelope that contains your check for a bill you owe. Forgive the person who wronged you. It’s time we started telling ourself the truth. It’s not some catchy phrase on a sign that is going to show people that we love them and each other and that is important, after all how well we love each other is a sign of who we’re following.

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I’ve been kind of quiet this past week. A lot is on my mind. I’ve been both challenged and convicted by some of you here.

I think it was Keith (or pastorboy) that pointed out that as believers, when we are sinned against by another believer, we are to approach the offender. However, we don’t do this repeatedly until the offender confesses. If the offender is unrepentant, we have to let it go.

A year and a half ago, my closest friend did something that hurt me very much. At first I didn’t say anything. I just let it burn inside me. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I approached him. He didn’t really apologize (unless you call “I’m sorry you feel that way” an apology). I repeatedly met with him, confronting him with what he had done. At least one other Christian approached him as well. Unfortunately, our relationship has deteriorated to the point that we no longer go to the same church nor is he willing to meet with me.

So, it’s time to let go. I was sinned against and I need to forgive. In retrospect, I guess I did quite a bit of sinning against him.

Then, we had the post about tone here at Great thoughts and really challenging.

And on Sunday, I read this passage in James:

James 3:13-18 (ESV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.

So, I’m a contributor here. Sometimes I think I write good articles, sometimes lame ones. But vs 17-18 really hit me hard. I really need to start applying these. Not just here on this blog. But in real life. With my friend, who will no longer speak to me. With my fiancé, as we work through planning and stressing about our wedding. With my family. With my roommate. The list appears to be endless. And yet, this is what I, as a Christian, am called to do.

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Corey pointed out this post over at CRN – which can only be described as a hit piece. It’s short, disappointing, and relishes in the “turmoil” of a fellow member in the Body of Christ. I’m not sure what is more troubling, that they seem to relish in the supposed turmoil within a local expression of the Body of Christ – or the sources they quote. If you follow the links one is a newspaper the other two are blogs (here and here).

I find the second source, the first blog, to be highly ironic since, on the same page as the Mars Hill article, there is a link to “Lustlab” where women can find their “inner slut.”

The post itself doesn’t say much, so there’s little to respond to except to marvel at the peddling that’s being done. Who knows, maybe there’s a scandal brewing in Seattle that will be another embarrassment to the Body as a whole; then again maybe it’s just a few outsiders (media and bloggers) fanning the flames against something they do not understand – either way, the from the other parts of the Body should be a) charity and love not b) relish and condemnation.

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The next ODM spokesman?…is the basic mantra of tabloid journalism and a number of ODM’s.

Today’s case in point:

Here is a recent quote from an interview with Rob Bell in Relevant Magazine:

We refer to ourselves [at Mars Hill] as aggressively nonpartisan, so we don’t engage in partisan politics in terms of “Here’s whom you should vote for; here’s whom you should support.” We do acknowledge that the Gospel has deeply political edges to it, but that should not surprise anyone. Jesus was killed because of how He confronted a particular socioeconomic religious system. He’s a first-century Galilean revolutionary who proclaimed a Kingdom other than the kingdom of Herod, so the Gospel does have political edges.

The interest is in giving voice to people who have no voice and using all of our abundance and wealth and resources on behalf of those who have a shortage. Some of our pastors had a meeting with the mayor of [Grand Rapids], which was simply for the purpose of asking who the most forgotten and the most hurting in our city are. They mayor had several very specific answers, and so we’ve actually reorganized a whole area of our church, putting the majority of our efforts around trying to take care of the worst problems in our city. I don’t know if you would say that’s political or not, even though it involved meeting with the mayor, but if Jesus comes to town and things don’t get better, then we have to ask some hard questions.

For anyone who pays even moderate attention to Mars Hill Bible Church and Bell, this is nothing new or groundbreaking. In fact, it is something he addressed in a Q&A podcast this past summer:

I would say that we have a historic opportunity in that all truth belongs to God. It is not owned by the Republicans. It is not owned by the Democrats. It is not owned by the liberals. It is not owned by the conservatives. All truth belongs to God. And God has set us free in Christ.

Our culture worships at the altar of duality. Everything that comes to people – ‘Is it this, or is it this? Is it conservative or is it liberal? It it modern or post-modern? Is it emergent or is it non-emerging?’ And the Kingdom of God – “how God wants things” – transcends whatever divisions our culture has created.

We, as a church, will remain aggressively non-partisan. The gospel has political edges to it. So when a person says ‘oh, no, Jesus just came for the personal’ – [I say] ‘then why did they kill him’? There were deep political edges that had implications.

The environment and our care of the earth is not a Democratic party issue. It is a Genesis 1 issue. If I met a woman today who is pregnant and thinking about terminating that pregnancy, I would introduce her to about ten women in our congregation who would tell her their stories, and I say ‘we are desperate for you to not make that choice.’ That is not a Republican issue. That is an issue of ’we want to affirm life, and we believe mistakes and redemption become opportunities for grace’. So – any side that wants to say ‘we own this issue’ – if it’s true you only own that because you borrowed that from God.

I’ve had people say – ‘well, if you’re saying that, you must be against the President’, or ‘if you’re saying that, you must be for him’. I’m trying to articulate the way of Jesus, and I don’t really care who is for it or against it – I just want to get the word out so that everyone can do it. If you take the gospel seriously, it will always feel lik you are flirting with various political parties, because it is not surprising that different groups would grasp different dimensions of God’s truth. ’Well, if you’re advocating for the poor, that seems to be a Democratic thing’, or ‘if you’re advocating micro-finance that seems capitalistic – is that a Republican thing?’ As far as we know, it’s true and it doesn’t belong to anybody, because it belongs to God.

Can we be a church that transcends all of the ways our culture tries to divide us? What we are trying to do here at Mars Hill is to say that there is a truth that is not the swinging of the pendulum. It is the kingdom of God and it transcends all of the ways we try to divide ourselves. The beautiful thing here is that truth and love seem to be winning. I would beg this community to consider that when Jesus is fully on display, it won’t fit ANY of your boxes, so just toss your boxes out now. I am only trying to come from one perspective: Jesus. NOBODY will co-opt this stage or this community or hijack the agenda, which is that jesus would be put on display for the whole world to see.

I would beg this community to consider that what we are doing here is inviting ourselves to be a part of something our culture has not seen: ‘OK, it’s nice that you have that disagreement, and it’s nice that you have that ‘thing’, but let’s take communion together and then let us break ourselves open and pour ourselves out for the world. So, I would beg our community to have no fear. There is nothing to fear – Jesus can be trusted, so let’s go…

It is pretty clear that MHBC and its preaching pastor are pretty aggresive at being non-partisan, as the church should be, taking the individual issues of the day and applying Godly, scriptural perspective to them – whether the issues have been co-opted by conservatives (abortion, micro-finance, justice, etc.) or liberals (caring for the poor, the environment, etc.).

Truth belongs to God, not a political party or movement.

Rather than deal with what is ACTUALLY being taught at Mars Hill Bible Church, though, ODM’s looking for a quick score, regardless of it being at the expense of truth, honed in on one sentence from the entire context of the conversation -

Jesus was killed because of how He confronted a particular socioeconomic religious system. He’s a first-century Galilean revolutionary who proclaimed a Kingdom other than the kingdom of Herod.

- and ran with it, declaring to the world “Rob Bell, Your Liberalism is Showing“. [Merry - if you're reading this, please insert it as Exhibit 9,999 of "an uncharitable reader"] In doing so, though, the author shows more about his own ignorance of Biblical history and exegesis than a presence of ‘liberalism’ in Bell or his teaching.
As most serious students of scripture know and understand, there are a number of levels of answers to questions raised in scripture. The question being raised – Who killed Jesus, and why? – is one of them.

On one level, we can view Isaiah 53, in which it is clear that it is the Lord’s will that it would happen in order to take on the sins of the world.

On another level, we can point to the gospel accounts who identify “the Jews” (or, more correctly, from the Greek, “the Judeans” – the Jews from Judea, who tended to be more secularly oriented, or were oriented with the Sadducee party). We might, as well, observe that this was corroborated by the Romans who carried out the crucifixion.
On yet another level, we can point to Paul, who pointed to “the rulers of this age” as the culprits (I Cor. 2:8).

Paul, though, also indicates that all of us are complicit, through our sin, in the death of Jesus.

In truth, it all depends upon the context of the question “Who killed Jesus, and why?” of which answer is best suited – because all are facets of the truth. In this particular case, Bell is answering a question on politics, so he gives an answer that is based on the political truth of Jesus’ death.

In the first century, the Sadducee party was beholden to Rome for the power they held in the Temple. The writings of Josephus, the Essenes of Qumran, Rome itself and other sources bear this out. The Sadducees, who were of the priestly line, were in charge of the Temple and its rites, from which they gained vast amounts of wealth. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple and his teachings about the kingdom were very much a threat to their way of life.

The religious Jews who followed Jesus believed that he was to be the Messiah – expecting him to be an earthly conqueror who would overthrow Roman rule and bring the physical kingdom into being. This was a direct threat to the Romans.

Politically, it was the Sanhedrin (made up of 65 Sadducees and 5 Pharisees (at least 2 of whom were sympathetic to Jesus)) and Herod which launched the plot to kill him, out of a motive of self-preservation, both physical and economic. It was the Romans who carried out the execution, in order to prevent an uprising (noting that the Romans killed scores of individuals identified as ‘Messiahs’).

So, again, Bell’s statement is one of fact, not of partisan politics or belief.

What is sad, though, is just how belligerantly dishonest some Christians can be when the importance of slander, profit and pride (all in the guise of “discernment”) outweigh the need for charity and the truth.

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